New Haven: Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel is trying to get his 2002 murder conviction overturned by arguing that his trial attorney failed to competently defend him against weak evidence, reigniting a long simmering debate over the strength of the sensational case.
A trial starts Tuesday in Rockville Superior Court in the latest appeal by Skakel, the 52-year-old nephew of Robert F. Kennedy`s widow, Ethel. Skakel is serving 20 years to life in prison for the 1975 golf club bludgeoning of his neighbor Martha Moxley when they were 15 in tony Greenwich, Connecticut.
Skakel, who has lost a series of appeals over the years and a bid for parole last year, is hoping to get out of prison through a writ of habeas corpus arguing he was deprived of his constitutional right to effective legal representation when Michael Sherman was his attorney.
Dorthy Moxley, the victim`s mother, said she will attend the trial. She said that there is no new evidence and that she hopes it will be the last appeal because it brings back painful memories.
"There are things that you put out of your mind and you don`t want to think about, but it all comes back," Moxley said, her voice breaking.
Skakel`s current attorney, Hubert Santos, argues that his client`s conviction is based on two witnesses of dubious credibility who claimed Skakel had confessed to the crime. He contends the verdict likely would have been different if Sherman had conducted an appropriate investigation, obtained evidence and challenged inappropriate state evidence.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Skakel`s cousin who is listed as a potential witness for the trial, believes Skakel should have been exonerated.
"It was a 27-year-old crime that had an army of suspects with evidence against them much more formidable than the evidence against Michael," Kennedy said. Prosecutors have long bristled over arguments the evidence was weak. Skakel`s conviction came after more than a dozen witnesses testified that he made incriminating statements, including three direct confessions, prosecutor Susann Gill wrote in court papers.
Sherman, who has appeared frequently on national television shows as a legal analyst and is listed as a potential witness, declined to comment on the latest appeal. He has said he did all he could to prevent Skakel`s conviction.
Attorneys for Skakel argue that Sherman failed to challenge the state`s star witness by finding witnesses who later rejected his claim that Skakel had confessed to the crime. Skakel said Sherman failed to obtain evidence pointing to other suspects.
Skakel`s attorneys say Sherman failed to investigate a change in the account by Skakel`s brother Thomas, an early suspect in the case because he was the last person seen with Martha.
They say Thomas Skakel in the 1990s told investigators for the first time that he and Martha were intimate the night she died and that he was a habitual liar who had a "long neurological and psychiatric history" and a history of temper outbursts.